A few weeks ago, Facebook announced ways it would allow us more choice and control over our accounts when we die, and it brought to the fore a whole new element to how we, in my family, have thought about handling death.
Our online lives involve much more than Facebook, although I personally like the idea that Facebook offers choices between making memorial pages, deleting accounts, or turning control over to someone else (similar to an executor, I suppose. Shall we say E-xecutor? I-xecutor for Apple fans?)
Since we’re all friends, I’m just going to get it out there: My Dad recently passed away after a fight with cancer. Dad and I blogged together right here about television. Until a few weeks ago, he was still taking classes on Coursera. He filed his 2014 taxes online. He truly embraced the Networked Society.
But in his twilight, Dad could have pretty much cared less about his online life and what happened to it. He was busy enough making choices about what to do with the IRL parts of his life, and so was my stepmom.
An old teacher of mine also was ill with cancer, and his daughter kept his Facebook open and active for several months after he died. It was touching for a while, but then I really started to dislike and feel uncomfortable about seeing Mr. Duncan’s name come up in my timeline. I knew he was dead, why was he posting something on Facebook?
I have so many questions about online death.
When it comes to the next generation, I suppose the question could be: what’s NOT going to be online? All the financial information, the personal statistics, the obituary… it will all be on-screen and online. Then that raises questions about data decay. Formats. Eventually we’ll have to print and put that paperwork – and those photos – into airtight cases, don’t you think?
Will my great-great-grandchildren ever see what my handwriting looked like? Do they have to see what I put as my status update that day when I was angry at their great-grandfather? (my sons.) I’m not sure how I feel about that. Social media is great while we’re here but when we’re gone it would be nice to leave no trace. And we all know that’s just not reality anymore.
What I’m realizing is that as I had to say goodbye to my Dad in real life, I’m going to have to say goodbye to him online as well.
Republished with permission from The Networked Society Blog: Networked Society from the beginning to the end – and beyond? by Dodi Axelson